Ganglion Cyst – The Mother’s Wrist

Ganglion Cyst - The Mother's Wrist
Photo Credit: Tharakorn Arunothai /

A ganglion swelling is a fluid-filled cyst that develops near a joint or tendon, often at the wrist. Sometimes known as ‘mother’s wrist’, ganglion cysts can occur post birth due to increased strain when caring for the baby. Ganglion cysts vary in size, some may be the size of a pea whereas others may be as big as a golf ball.

What Causes A Ganglion Cyst For Mothers?

In the 1960s, “mother’s wrist” was thought to be caused by the repetitive movement of wringing nappies to clean them. If reading that sentence didn’t make you fall in love with your washing machine, I don’t know what will. Luckily, that’s not considered to be a potential cause today.

Carrying babies can cause ganglion cysts, especially if the baby is heavy and/or long. As you use your hand to support the baby’s head when carrying him, you put pressure on the tendons in your wrist. If your baby is in the top percentile for height or weight, you have an increased risk of developing mother’s wrist.

The condition may not develop immediately after the birth, in fact symptoms usually develop when the baby reaches six months old or later. As the baby grows bigger and puts more strain on your wrist, this can cause ganglion cysts to develop. As your baby gets older still, they should learn to support their own weight better, even when carried, and so you may find the symptoms disappear.

Symptoms Of Ganglion Cysts

The main symptom of a ganglion cyst is the swelling of the affected area. The cysts vary in size, some may even be so small that they cannot be felt or seen. In some cases, the ganglion cyst may cause pain and prevent full use of the wrist or hand.

If you think you have a ganglion cyst, you should contact your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

Treatment For Ganglion Cysts

If the cyst is painless, you may not require treatment. Some women find that as their baby grows and becomes more independent, the symptoms of the condition disappear without the need for treatment. However, if you are experiencing pain or discomfort, there are a number of treatment options available for mother’s wrist, including:

  • A wrist brace – you can ask your doctor or pharmacist to recommend a wrist brace to wear for this condition. The brace will act to immobilise your wrist, and stop you worsening the condition. The brace will also provide extra support to your wrist.
  • Acupuncture – some women have found that acupuncture has helped to treat the pain and discomfort caused by mother’s wrist.
  • Pain relief – if you are experiencing pain that is preventing you from going about your daily business, you should speak to your pharmacist or healthcare provider about pain relief options.
  • Rest – you should try to rest the affected wrist. By avoiding further strain, you can prevent the condition from worsening.

If you have tried the above and are still experiencing discomfort, speak to your doctor about medical treatment options. Draining and surgery are two options for severe cysts. However there is a high rate of recurrence in drained cysts, and if the fluid has thickened (which it does over time) then it may be too difficult to aspirate successfully. Surgery is a very invasive and extreme option, so try to keep it mind that it will likely resolve itself over the coming months.

To avoid developing future ganglions, or aggravating your existing condition, you could try the following:

  • Use a sling – if the cyst was caused by carrying your baby and supporting his head with your hand, you could try babywearing instead. The baby will be supported by the sling, and you’ll have your hands free to get on with important things (like making a cup of tea). You can even breastfeed in a sling, reducing your risk of developing mother’s wrist even further.
  • Breastfeeding position – be careful not to use your wrist and thumb to support your baby’s head during feeds. Instead use pillows to prop your baby up, or try feeding lying down in bed.
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